Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, September 13, 2022
Reheat of the Lich King

Lately I have been seeing a lot of advertising for World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. It turns out that this is getting released on the WoW Classic servers in two weeks, on September 26th. And the response is overwhelming. Servers are overcrowded with long queue times. Blizzard is offering free server transfers. 14 years after the original, the reheated lich king is the new hotness!

September 18, 2008, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning was released. In my mind, the MMORPG industry has been going downhill from there. WAR was the last time people really believed that a new MMORPG could appear and surpass World of Warcraft. We never got over the disappointment with bears, bears, bears and other unmet promises. And even WoW declined after Wrath of the Lich King, reaching its peak in October 2010.

I find it kind of sad that the most popular MMORPG on offer in September 2022 is a second coming of World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King on "classic" servers. It somehow is admitting that all the MMORPG games that came after that and all the changes and expansions to WoW that came after WotLK weren't all that great. Sure, a number of games are still around, people play Guild Wars 2, Final Fantasy XIV, and The Elder Scrolls Online. But MMORPGs have become a niche that you rarely hear from anymore. There doesn't appear to be a future for the genre other than nostalgia.

I'll take "Things old people say" for $100.
I had to use the chance to comment this time cause I think the last comment I left here was when Lich King was live back then. Glad to see you still blogging Tobold and congratulations to your real-life retirement!

As for this entries topic: fully agreed but let's be honest MMORPGs let other genres allow to steal its lunch or every other genre identified what made people stick to MMORPGs and integrated those designs into their game. The term "live service game" pretty much means MMO-something to a degree. And oh boy do most freaking games today offer daily, weekly, monthly quest progression.

Media / entertainment landscape changed a lot too. When i played EverQuest back then, there was almost zero other media consumption. Mostly for the lack of good options. Today countless other pieces of media compete for your eyeballs' attention.

It was fun while it lasted but yes the genre peaked back then and for most aspects of it also ran creatively bankrupt to a point where all ingredients and secrets to shackle players, could be copied by everyone else. Probably a good thing to be honest.
Your conclusion is a bit too strong :
- most type of game (or entertainement, in fact) never truly disappear, they just become more niche
- again and again we saw old genre coming back stronger than ever ( 20 years ago, D&D was really really niche, videogames inspired by 2D era are a big hit, etc...)
- I think the metaverse trend is bullshit ( everybody is discussing the big economic benefits, no one is discussing why the user would want to login) but metaverse are basically MMO.

This make me think while investors are so enthusiastic for metaverses, while it seems clear that nobody with the slightest grasp on current technology does not have any interest in them.
I am not sure why the people who are usually most upset by all sorts of -isms believe that ageism is okay. It probably falls in the same category where racism is okay as long as it is directed against white people, where sexism is okay as long as it is directed against men, and where cultural appropriation is okay as long as the stolen culture belongs to those old, white, men.
If I had been going to leap back into WoW Classic it's too late for me, as I would have gone for Burning Crusade. All the rot was starting to become apparent with Wrath, and it wasn't just Arthas's army of corpses. Maybe they'll do a third iteration in a few years!

But then the genre never really succeeded at any time in reaching the MMORPG dream in which you made characters that were not all the same who had adventures that were not all the same. Probably that is a niche thing and incompatible with getting a large clientele, even if they figured out the tech for it.

"But MMORPGs have become a niche that you rarely hear from anymore."

It's interesting to see that WoW Classic is -still- holding on to between 700k and 800k(average) daily players, especially since it has been over 3 years since going live. Compared to the 1.2 million average daily players of Retail, I'd argue that the number of daily Classic players proves that the game is appealing to, and capturing more than just the niche "rose colored glasses" crowd.

There were quite a few people who made de-facto statements about Classic dying within a few months of it's release in 2019, yet here we are entering yet another expansion, 3 years later, with server queues hinting at the truth of enduring, good game design.

Ageism is a good thing in this case, as it means that people younger than you or myself are also included in those 700-800k daily players of Classic. =)
WoTLK was a lot of fun. I won't be surprised if classic outdoes retail population wise.

I have some hope with Ashes of Creation in the future but MMORPGS have not lived up to what I thought it could do.

I've been playing some form of mmorpg since 97. Some of us old people are not as pessimistic.
I am very curious about the demography. I imagine it's all about "nostalgia", with almost no fresh players of the new generations. My kids (12 and 15) tried WoW and asked me how is it even possible to "like" a game so ancient and "rudimental". Nobody in their circles (friends, school, sports) even know what "WoW" is, aside from a single kid whose father was an avid WoW player. I'm from Italy btw.
I was there, 3,000 years ago… and already reading your blog, IIRC.
I tend to agree with you, Tobold: WotLK was fun, it came out at the pinnacle of the MMORPG age, and marked the beginning of its decline: for the first time I remember thinking “Cool, but I’ve been there already”.
Classic was successful for a reason, i.e. it offered old players again a large world to wander through; WoW expansions, by adding content to every corner of each zone in the interest of gameplay, shrunk the apparent world size more and more. As a person who falls in the “explorer” gamer category, I grew tired of moving from a carousel to another. Newer MMORPGs followed the same trend; I remember growing tired of SWTOR and Wildstar within 2 weeks from its release for the very same reason.
I am afraid though this is the mentality of an older generation. Newer games tend to be all about gameplay, and even focusing on “short” schenarios (but potentially repeated ad nauseam). MMORPGS don’t fit well in this approach.
Ah yes, came for the insightful read by Tobold but stayed for the useless snark by Bhagpuss. All is well in the world.

On my end, I gave up on WoW, 4-6 years ago? Pandaria was the last straw, though I played enough to get technically through single play stuff in Warlords of Draenor. Then I developed a condition akin to a nervous tick plus nauseated vomiting when I thought about logging on so had to quit for my health....

My wife however has never really left, and my son (10) plays in her guild on occasion, with her friends (for her WoW is a social network as much as a game) and their kids. So these sorts of things do happen. I don't notice them even trying to recapture the lost glory of classic mode....because the function of the game for them is "Facebook, but with more orcs and night elves."

I tried it again recently. Had a brief period of fun, then the distinct sensation of death dragging its claws airily across my spine motivated me to log out and delete. Wasn't scary enough, though....I resumed an unironic game of Fortnite with my kid, who enjoys it almost as much as any old Assassin's Creed game (but less so, because his social group is very obnoxious and he unfriended all of them in Fortnite).

Bottom line is....these are for the most part all now niche ways for people to maintain some sort of social comfort with others. The hardcore Leet gamers have moved on, or maybe they are older now and want to go back to Classic when the game felt new and difficult to them. That's a legitimate player base, so more power to Blizzard for figuring that out.

I wouldn't be so quick to count the genre out, unless I'm missing something - at its peak, WoW hit, what, 12-15 million subscribers?

FFXIV is estimated to have 39-40 million subscribers at present.

So, something is going right for them.
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